29 March 2002

Assurance standards tightening

By FW livestock reporters

NEW farm assurance standards, implemented on Apr 1, will reflect existing and likely future legislation on welfare, biosecurity, food safety and environment without being too onerous.

That is the view of Farm Assured British Beef and Lamb chairman, Ian Frood. "While few producers welcome having to meet higher assurance standards, because they often mean more work and cost, if the market demands them we must deliver."

The aspect of the new standards which has so far caused most controversy is an increase in residency periods for cattle and sheep to qualify as farm assured. All beef cattle and sheep slaughtered after Mar 1, 2003 must be kept on a farm assured premises for at least 180 days and 90 days before slaughter, respectively.

"Some producers phoning since the new standards were announced dont realise this period can be shared between different units, provided they are all farm assured," explains Mr Frood.

However, some store producers remain unimpressed. Willie Woodman, who farms cattleand sheep near Haltwhistle, Northumberland, is typical of those who have declined FABBL registration in the past.

"Just because were not farm assured, it doesnt mean were not good producers," he says.

Running just over 500 cattle as his business restocks after foot-and-mouth, Mr Woodman encapsulates the objections commonly cited by non-members against assurance schemes; cost, imposed regulation and paperwork.

His store cattle have attracted strong prices in the past. However, Mr Woodman believes the rule change leaves him little choice but to sign up. "More buyers say they want assured stock. The scheme itself looks straightforward enough, but the paperwork will not be welcome."

Existing FABBL members will also have additional paperwork to complete. But much of this is required by current legislation or intended to reflect expected future legislation on Nitrogen Vulnerable Zones and biosecurity, according to Mr Frood.

Producers will be expected to produce a simple waste management plan. "This standard is to get producers used to thinking how much nitrogen animals produce a day, how much land there is to spread it on and safe spreading. NVZ legislation will require much more detailed recording," he says.

Home-mixers will also have to record feed formulations, required under existing legislation. "The Food Standards Agency sees regulating home-mixing as a high priority and is spending a lot of money to enforce current legislation. FABBL home-mixing requirements are designed to help avoid members falling foul of legal requirements.

"Most producers will only change their feed formulation once or twice a year. Recording is simply a matter of writing down what is in the mix," explains Mr Frood.

Samples of dry feeds, such as barley or soya, will need to be taken and kept for four weeks. "If animals become ill as a result of contamination, keeping a sample will allow producers to prove where contamination came from."

However, it is only necessary to take a sample before the source runs out, adds Mr Frood.

As well as feed, there are also new health, biosecurity and transport standards. "FABBL will require a written health plan showing what steps are taken to guard herd and flock health, such as worming and vaccination. Although it is not currently a requirement to discuss this with a vet, this is something we would like to see in future."

Farm vehicles will have to be clean, roadworthy and safe for stock being transported and hauliers contracted by FABBL members will have to be Assured British Meats approved. "Many hauliers supplying large abattoirs will already be approved, but local hauliers may not. However, we will be running a recruitment programme at markets and will allow a transition period of time for this standard." &#42

&#8226 Feed and waste recording.

&#8226 Longer residency periods.

&#8226 Extended to transport.